By Dr. Mursi Al Sayid Al Sabbagh
In ancient Egyptian tradition, ‘easier than a proverb’ was a common saying. People still say ‘the proverb is to speech as proof is to a court case’. This indicates the value of proverbs and their importance in communication and debate, because a proverb serves as convincing proof when an issue is being disputed.
Proverbs (eloquent, witty and short phrases with multiple meanings) capture the essence of peoples’ experiences. They form folk philosophy and reflect social values of all kinds.
In all languages, people agree that the proverb is associated with an origin and an occasion. The origin is the statement that was first uttered; the occasion is the event at which the statement was first uttered. So a proverb is a common saying that brings to mind the original event. In Arabic, the word ‘mathal’ (proverb) has many other meanings, including news, talk, simile, lesson, proof, the highest, the majority, an example, and an ideal.
The basic objective of folk proverbs is to inculcate and promote different values, because folk proverbs play a distinctive role in emphasising social values such as family and social cohesion, respect, and appreciation. Proverbs play a role in the development of economic values by encouraging work and the use of natural resources. By using proverbs, people seek to disseminate their ideals and protect their religious and ethical standards.
Proverbs convey the ethical standards set by wise people, and they play a role in establishing behavioural and procedural norms for the generations.
Proverbs are subject - whether consciously or unconsciously - to many changes and innovations by the collective memory. Proverbs are culturally distinctive, and they reflect a nation’s heritage.
Egyptian proverbs merit a technical analysis using various methodologies to assess their value to society.